Slant: Short opinion pieces and rumor-chasing notes
Feds slap animal rights activists with the T-word.
Waves of Possibility
Amit Goswami ponders creating our own reality.
Politics, social justice and other Eugene obsessions hit the streets.
Happening Person: Sarah Woods
A FREE CASCADIA
It's called the Republic of Cascadia, or Cascadia for short. Its borders encompass present-day Oregon and Washington, northern California and British Columbia. With more than 14 million people, a GDP over $300 billion and Microsoft and Starbucks to prop up the economy, it's among the world's 30 wealthiest nations. Yet its government places ecology over economy, personal freedoms over regulations and regional sustainability over all.
An independent Cascadia may be no more than a progressive-libertarian's green, wet dream, but it's also single, and a Cancer, and has more than 1,000 friends on MySpace.
The Cascadian Independence Party, formed in Seattle in late 2005, now has a MySpace profile and an official party website, recollectionbooks.com/Cascadia. Administering both is Brandon Letsinger, a University of Washington architecture student who works in a used bookstore. "We want a smaller, decentralized government that takes care of its people," he said. "I don't think there's anything paradoxical in that."
While other Cascadia websites are kind of a joke — one references the Bureau of Sasquatch Affairs and the endangered Pacific tree octopus — the Cascadia Independence Party's site lays out a very serious political platform that includes:
• a weak central government, strong provincial councils;
• renewable, non-nuclear energy and an expanded public transportation system;
• weaker corporate rights and stronger workers' rights;
• free universal health care, with optional private medicine;
• a policy of non-alignment in military affairs and a military budget akin to Portugal's;
• a temporary moratorium on immigration; and
• the recognition of gay marriages.
Pacific Northwestern upstarts have dreamt of secession for more than 200 years, in alternate visions of the State of Jefferson, the State of Shasta and the State of Trinity. Ernest Callenbach's 1975 novel Ecotopia portrayed a post-independence Cascadia, seducing a generation of readers into the fold of secession fantasies. The Cascadia National Party, formed in 2001, has been inactive since 2003.
But wouldn't the federal government wage civil war against serious secessionist elements? "We're talking about quite some time before the federal government responds," Letsinger said. "But more and more, when people realize what we're for and that we aren't joking around, they're on board. Our goal is to get [the CIP] established as a feasible idea, and I don't think it's too far off."
Letsinger wouldn't divulge the CIP's member numbers, but he said that party volunteers are working in six cities and "the response has been phenomenal." The CIP plans to take on a larger public presence during the fall elections but for now has no plans to run candidates. "We'll have to see where things go," Letsinger said. "We're trying to keep out of that mainstream stuff, or else we'll become just another political party." — Kera Abraham
SEGREGATION OF SCHOOLS ON HORIZON?
One of the biggest equity challenges facing local public schools is housing patterns in Eugene, according to 4J Superintendent George Russell, speaking Sept. 8 at City Club. Wealthier white families tend more and more to migrate to upper-scale neighborhoods while families of lower socio-economic class are forced into poorer neighborhoods.
"Unless we address housing patterns in Eugene," said Russell, "resegregation of schools could result."
City Club of Eugene is back in session after a summer break, and Russell kicked off the fall season talking about gaps in local public education and the challenges of a shrinking school population.
Russell said schools face not only achievement gaps that reflect disparities of housing, income, class and race, but also gaps in preparation for school and gaps in access to educational resources.
The district has begun another round of strategic planning, looking ahead to the year 2012 and beyond. Even though Eugene's population is growing, schools are expected to drop in enrollment by several thousand by 2012 as more and more families with school-age children are priced out of Eugene and make their residences in Springfield, Veneta and other surrounding towns. Eugene's aging population also means fewer households with children.
When asked what 4J spends each year to educate each student, Russell said it was about $7,000, which sounds like a lot of money, he said, but New York and Alaska schools spend about $11,500 per student, and Connecticut schools spend $16,000.
Despite the funding challenges, achievement gaps, shrinking enrollment, excess property, school choice inequities, and other issues, Russell said "we are doing some great things at 4J, and you can't ask for a better community and better students." — TJT
For decades northwest Eugene residents have complained that J.H. Baxter's toxic emissions are stinky, but they haven't been able to prove that they're making people sick. In early 2005, Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) responded by entering into a Best Work Practices agreement with Baxter, prompting the wood treatment company to modify its vacuum system and install an odor control system.
Those measures may be working. In February 2006, a consulting firm found Baxter's creosote and fuel oil emissions had dropped by two-fifths, and complaint numbers fell by about half between August 2005 and August 2006.
But at least one neighbor worries that the ongoing changes are only curbing the stink, not the toxicity, of Baxter's emissions. "I want emission control that results in odor control, NOT odor masking that might accomplish some small ... reduction in emissions," River Road resident Becky Riley wrote in an April letter to LRAPA. Riley is skeptical about Baxter's pilot testing of a product called Ecosorb, which uses essential oils to mask emission odors.
"There is somewhat of a masking effect," LRAPA spokesperson Sally Markos said, adding that Ecosorb does dissolve smelly nitrogen and sulfur compounds.
Riley also notes that McFarland Cascade, a lumber plant on Hwy 99, recently installed a retort hood vapor recovery system that cost about $40,000. Baxter had rejected a similar system as too expensive, estimating the cost at up to $200,000. An LRAPA permitter explained during the July LRAPA board meeting that the McFarland system uses a different kind of filter than the proposed Baxter system.
So why doesn't Baxter just go with McFarland's cheaper filter system? "I believe they're looking into it," Markos said, "but the McFarland filters may not be as effective as they thought they might be."
The jury is still out on the health impacts of Baxter's emissions. State and federal researchers recently concluded that rates of leukemia, lung and nasal cancers in the Baxter-area neighborhood are similar to the statewide averages, but the brain cancer rate is slightly higher. LRAPA is still waiting for the results of a dozen air samples taken from the Baxter plant between January 2005 and June 2006; a state toxicologist will report back by the end of the year. — Kera Abraham
A health assessment by independent consultants hired by Union Pacific Railroad has found soils and groundwater in the River Road and Trainsong neighborhoods contaminated with diesel fuel, industrial lubricants, solvents and heavy metals.
On Sept. 12, Oregon Toxics Alliance held a townhall meeting to discuss the contamination with area residents. OTA cautions that exposure to the pollutants though contact with well water, ponds and drainage ditches, groundwater vapors and wind-blown dust may cause health problems including liver, lung and brain damage and cancer. Children and railyard workers are at the greatest health risk.
In 1993, the state DEQ and Union Pacific began an investigation of groundwater contamination originating in the Eugene railyard. They eventually identified a groundwater plume of polluted water seeping under homes in the River Road and Trainsong neighborhoods, prompting the recent health assessment.
"Residents were previously told there was nothing to worry about, but the health risk assessment conclusions show otherwise," said OTA Director Lisa Arkin. "The report identifies the need for immediate action to protect those residents most at risk."
OTA wants the DEQ and Union Pacific to immediately fund a massive clean-up effort. OTA is especially concerned about toxic gases that may rise from the plume through the soil and into homes through their foundations. A Johns Hopkins study links brain damage with exposure to cleaning solvents like those used at the Union Pacific railyard, which have been found in the underground plume.
For more information, contact OTA at 465-8860. — Kera Abraham
Plant and garden enthusiasts from all over the Northwest will be converging on Cottage Grove Saturday and Sunday for the fourth annual Gathering of Gardeners at the Village Green Resort, and several gardening experts will be speaking as part of the event.
Steve Lorton, recently retired from 33 years with Sunset Magazine, will speak on "Building a Garden in the Cascades." Mark Bloom, local nursery owner and retired educator, will speak on "Nurse Logs and Mother Stumps." Seattle fern expert Judith Jones will talk about "Fabulous Ferns." Anchorage attorney and longtime garden columnist Jeff Lowenfels will speak on "No More Chemicals in the Yard, Making Aerated Compost Tea." Local horticulturist and garden manager Cindee Eichengreen will speak on "Gardens of England — From Kent to Cornwall."
The Gathering of Gardeners also includes a tomato taste-off, recycled art show, music, vendors and kids activities. Tickets are $2 for adults and the full schedule is available at www.thegatheringofgardeners.comor call 942-2491.
• Last week's news brief "Townhall Toxics" included information on two different opportunities for residents to get involved in north Eugene environmental issues, but some confusion ensued in combining the two issues in one story. Oregon Toxics Alliance tells us their meeting this week was not to discuss the recent health report on the J.H. Baxter plant, but rather to talk about "the railyard health risk assessment that now shows significant hazards from groundwater pollution."
A loyal local Democrat called Monday to tell us of the death of Monroe Sweetland, who was 96 and probably best known as the man who revived the Oregon Democratic Party in the '40s. A former legislator and newspaper publisher, he worked with Richard Neuberger and Howard Morgan to make Oregon a two-party state. Some say he helped persuade Wayne Morse to change from Republican to independent to Democrat. We're confident that Sweetland would have liked what's happening to the Democratic Party in Lane county today. Under Val Hoyle and others who worked together on the Kerry campaign here, the party is pulling Democrats together with energy and dedication in the best Sweetland tradition.
The response to the fifth anniversary of 9/11 ranges from Bush calling for more war to media manipulation of history to the Eugene interfaith community praying together for peace. The latter approach makes more sense in so many ways, and we can be proud that in times of dark global insanity, Eugeneans are steadfastly lighting candles for peace and understanding.
The speech George Russell gave Friday (see news briefs) was not unlike other serious and concerned talks the schools chief has given to teachers and administrators lately, but his vision of increasingly segregated schools is particularly disturbing. The disparity between neighborhoods and the lack of affordable housing in Eugene are community issues, but the school district does have a role to play. Our popular open school choice has a big impact on creating inequities between schools. Meanwhile, the city is making efforts downtown and elsewhere to disperse lower-income housing, but we can always do more. Ashland, for example, has for the past 10 years offered incentives to developers to include cottages among the mini-mansions in housing developments. Developers who do it get to pack in more houses per acre.
Hendricks Park sparkled last Sunday afternoon when a crowd gathered to celebrate the park's 100th birthday. Toasts of champagne and cider went up to the first hundred, but especially to the second hundred years ahead for this treasure in the center of Eugene. A string quartet from South Eugene High School played. Fine food and flowers filled the F.M. Wilkins picnic shelter, recently rebuilt after wild winds dropped trees through the roof. Sponsored by the city and the Friends of Hendricks Park, the event was chaired by Sandra Austin, tireless gardener and organizer who has led the citizen side of the partnership that is transforming the park. David Moon, Friends chair, presided, paying tribute to the Hendricks family for giving the first 47 acres to be a public park. Mayor Piercy spoke and we were reminded of the community's need to continue to match such contributions by voting for the parks bond measure on the ballot in November. Only one worrisome comment came from an elderly woman at our table. Although she lives across town, she has driven often, several times a week, to Hendricks Park. Not so often anymore, she said. She simply can't afford the gas.
Arlie & Co. developers announced this week that they have withdrawn their plans to broker a purchase of 1,400 acres of Wildish land adjacent to the Willamette River and Mount Pisgah/Buford Park. Does this mean this beautiful and environmentally valuable land is destined for development? Not necessarily. This is a big decision for the Wildish folks and we can see why they want to take their time and examine their options. But we also hope they appreciate the positive implications of preserving the property as parkland. Money aside, it's a question of how the Wildish family will be remembered for generations to come.
SLANT includes short opinion pieces, observations and rumor-chasing notes compiled by the EW staff. Heard any good rumors lately? Contact Ted Taylor at 484-0519, firstname.lastname@example.org
After seven years as a stay-at-home housewife, mother-of-five Sarah Woods was ready to bust out. "I went to LCC to get the skills to do something," she says. "I needed some purpose in my life." Three years after starting classes in computer programming, she now teaches community-ed IT courses at the college. The child of a broken home, homeless at times in her teens, and the victim of domestic violence by the father of her two older kids, Woods wanted to create a safe place for women to get together online. Two years ago, she launched A New Avenue, a private message board for women in transition. "We have a 200-member base," she reports. Recently accorded non-profit status by the state, ANA now also hosts several forums that are open to the public on its website, anewavenue.com. The first local chapter of ANA, offering weekly meetings and monthly outings, was established in Eugene this year. "Next year we plan a new chapter every four months," says Woods, who appears in the photo with her youngest, 4-year-old Jessica.